Past, Present, and Future of the LGBT Community
Author: Joontae Philip Kim
Originally published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 04/15/2016
“Ring! Ring!” A phone call rang. It was from one of my closest friend. He said that his life partner of 30 years has been admitted to an emergency room. When I got there, he was crying out loud “Let me in! For God’s sake, let me in!” He was struggling to get into the emergency room but he couldn’t. It was because, according to Korean law, only family members or spouse could enter an emergency room. A life partner of same sex is neither recognized as a family member nor a spouse. Because his life partner was estranged from his family, he died alone after 40 hours of pain and struggle. In the same year, on my birthday, I came out to my family. We didn’t say another word. We just hugged each other and cried for hours and hours. It was because they already knew what kind of life I might have had. They knew what it is like being a gay man in Korea. Also, they knew much more is yet to come being part of such a conservative society. First, it was my story, my family’s story, and then it became our story.
Ever since United Nation has announced its Universal Declaration of Human Rights (hereafter referred to as UDHR) which prescribed no distinction for entitlement of the rights and freedoms, there has been a movement to enhance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (hereafter, referred to as LGBT) community. 40 years after the League of 1948 was launched as Denmark’s first gay right organization, it became the first country to allow “same-sex couples to be joined in a civil union” on Oct 1st of 1989 (Krieger, 2014). Also, after numerous attempts to endow same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry nationwide, it finally became legalized on June 26th, 2015 when “the U.S. Supreme Court said that states lack any legitimate reason to deprive gay couples of the freedom to marry” (Stohr 2015). However, behind such successes, there has been a strenuous struggle and there still are many on-going hardships around the world. An analysis on the past, present, and future of LGBT community is carried out in this study along the realm of gender studies. Academic background of this analysis comes from the school of feminist scholars who asserts that the rights of women, in some way, are the rights of minorities in that they represent those who are marginalized. In the past, there has been an insufficient amount of effort put into the enhancement of human rights in perspective of LGBT community. For LGBT community of nowadays, the explicit and implicit nature of discrimination against LGBT community will be examined in association with the relationship between LGBT community and military. At the same time, nowadays attempt to promote and implement social justice of LGBT community will be examined from sustainable development perspectives. At last, future of LGBT community lies in our effort to cultivate the culture of peace, non-violence, and peace education.
In the past, the rights of LGBT community was not given a priority thus no sufficient level of improvement was made. Regarding the human rights, Article 2 of UDHR prescribed;
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Also, Ramcharan, B. G. (2004) asserted that human rights shall play an important role of bringing together its citizens by means of court in order to prevent and resolve the conflicts that arise among them and establish organizations in support of implementing such goal. However, even in case of Korea which has ratified a numerous human rights treaties, law merely protects the right of LGBT person. For instance, it impedes the one’s right to pursue happiness as it does not recognize the civil union of same-sex couples. In my early twenties, right after I realized and came to terms with the fact that I was gay, I have participated in dozens of demonstrations for LGBT rights and rights of those suffering from HIV & AIDS. Major complaints of LGBT community was the instability of their status. As neither gay marriage nor civil union is allowed in Korea, they felt that the relationship became more casual and open because there is no barrier equivalent to marriage of heterosexual couples to end the relationship. Although many LGBT person struggles to remain and continue the relationship, they hit wall every time they want to advance their relationship. They cannot open a joint bank account, a token of trust. Car or health insurance companies does not allow you to include same-sex life partner, a deprivation of sense of stability. Even if you write a legitimate will, your asset will not go to your life partner but to your parents or relatives, a deprivation of economic stability. In regards to HIV/AIDS, one cannot be anonymous to receive treatment with government aid. As personal background check, your medical record is released to affiliated institutions whether it being university, law firm, or government office as personal background check. Therefore, you are at risk of losing your job and subjected to explicit and implicit discrimination when you apply for government aid. Although the treatment costs more than three thousand dollars a month without government aid and many people cannot afford that huge sum of money, there aren’t many people who report to agency in charge to receive government aid. It is because of fear that whole world is going to know that you are HIV/AIDS patients. Some argue that norms and values prescribed in UDHR, particularly universal entitlement of rights and freedoms, are those of Western influence and that cultural difference among countries and societies shall be respected. There, however, is a high chance it may bring about blind faith in people regarding their own culture without critically judging whether it is right or not. Along the line, it might even lead to a situation where crimes against humanity are committed because of the values and thoughts embedded in a certain society (Donnelly, 2007).
Regarding the present of LGBT community, both explicit and implicit nature of discrimination against LGBT community in the army illustrates a glimpse of the anti-LGBT world we live in now. First, I would like to share a story of my dearest friend, Patrick S and analyze his situation in perspectives of discriminatory roles, feminization, and jurisprudence. As a person from privileged background, a good-looking white male from upper middle class family, he had such a wide variety of options for his life. However, out of respect for his father a veteran of Korean War, he also wanted to serve the country. Just like he was proud of his own father being a veteran, he was very proud of himself being a gay and didn’t think that his sexual orientation could become a source of such hardships yet to face. The training was harsh but tolerable and he was getting accustomed to the life of being an army man after a couple years. However, things completely changed when the policy called ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ (hereafter referred to DADT policy) was introduced in Feb 28th, 1994. The original purpose of this policy was to prohibit sexual harassment of LGBT community in the army by not questioning and informing one’s sexual orientation. The policy was a mishap from its underlying ideology. According to Goldstein (2001), he suggested that the gendering of war reflects male discrimination against women and women have the right to participate in all social and political roles (including war roles) without facing discrimination. It exactly goes same for LGBT community. To point out some stereotyped characteristics of gay men, they may be more flamboyant, excessively masculine, or else. It, however, doesn’t mean that they lack skills to serve the country and participate in a war. It also doesn’t signify that it is Okay for others to subject them to hostile environment. The policy, however, basically prohibited a majority of LGBT community from joining the service as it barred the enrollment of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. As an openly gay man, I have no doubt that it takes a lot of courage for LGBT person to come out and be openly gay (in a broad sense). Due to existing discrimination, many who attempted to come out are estranged from their family and friends, is fired from the work, and becomes a victim of hate crime. Therefore, when you ask openly gay person to conceal his identity, it is not just asking them to lie about who they are but same as disregarding and neglecting all the courage and effort they have put into it. Back to the story, as Patrick was openly gay men serving the country before the policy was announced, everyone in the unit knew he was gay and the policy backfired onto him. To compare DADT policy with the feminization presented during the war time, Peterson, V. S. (2010) asserted that because of gender coding, some are feminized as a group that must be protected, controlled, detained, or eliminated. By protecting LGBT community in a passive way, it became a subject to be protected. Also, such policy can be interpreted in victimization perspective of human rights. Although the purpose of creating and implementing human rights regime lied in preventing and taking measures for actual victim and future victims, states rather victimized those people in need of assistance as “uneducated, destitute, old and infirm, too young, poorly clad, and hungry; peasants, the rural and urban poor, marginalized ethnic groups and nationalities, and lower castes” and Mutua asserted that they are portrayed as being isolated from the society and modern civilization which is very demeaning and degrading to those who is seeking and needing the assistance (Mutua, 2002). By victimizing LGBT community in army as those who is in desperate need of being incorporated into the society and their affiliated group, they were deprived of their rights to be who they are. For many, DADT policy was considered as a differential treatment for LGBT community and it quickly became the source of conflicts. Patrick’s sexual orientation made him a target of constant harassment, was an impediment to his promotion, and became a source of his identity crisis. After several years of sufferings, he just couldn’t take it anymore and he did the unthinkable, a suicide attempt. Having known him for over 10 years, I never would’ve pictured him committing suicide but being in a vicious circle of violence it made a difference. In case of women, even though there has been a body of international jurisprudence to define and monitor sexual harassment of women, particularly that of rape, it is still being committed and priorities are not given to them (Pankhurst, D. 2008). Yet, there is no body of international jurisprudence to promote the rights of the community and their harassment and sufferings are concealed in a way that women’s right was a few decades ago.
However, the directives to promote and implement the social justice, social dimension of sustainable development, of LGBT community are also currently being established and executed. Although there is a broadly used definition for sustainable development such as that of Brundtland Report (UNWCED, 1987) “Development that meets the needs of present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own hands”, there is no single definition of sustainable development that everyone agrees upon. There, however, is a high degree of agreement on several principles of sustainable development which are intra-generational and inter-generational equality, procedural equality, and others (Haughton, 1999, Hopwood, 2005). Assertion that there shall be an equality between generation and within generation without unfair and ambiguous proceeding signifies that social justice shall be placed upon our society. In regards to the social justices, Cudworth and Hobden (2011) asserted in their writings that there is an urgent need to take measures for both environmental protection and alleviation of social injustices such as inequalities between men and women, inequalities between global south and global north, and discrimination against minorities including LGBT community. Openly LGBT person is subjected to unfair and obscure social processing such as job promotion, loss of job, civil union & marriage, resident identification card, and others and such insecurity and instability impeded the people from forming a united society. They also suggested that there has been a threat to the security of wide variety of population followed by existing inequalities and it can be mitigated only when there is a redistribution of economic resources and reassignment of social justice (Cudworth & Hobden, 2011). Along the same line, Dankelman (2002) insisted that all people regardless of their race, sex, ethnicity, and others shall act together to narrow the existing inequalities. In promoting such goal, not only women shall be included but also effort of minorities such as LGBT community shall be incorporated for more holistic approach. In my opinion, transformative trends among sustainable development movement coincides with holistic approach. As Hopwood (2005) suggests, the transformation approach put emphasis on locating root causes of social problems and forming interrelations between people and close relationship between people and environment. Transformationists also are in favor of incorporating diverse perspectives such as social equity, “access to livelihood, good health, resources, and economic and political decision making” and mobilizing “a coalition that is powerful and cohesive enough to realize the needed changes” (Hopwood, 2005).
As there is a saying that children are hope of our future generation, future of LGBT community lies in peace education of children. According to Adams (2000), there are eight action areas of the program for a culture of peace and “peace through education”, “respect for all human rights”, “understanding, tolerance, and solidarity”, and “international peace and security” among them can directly be connected to promotion of LGBT rights. The weaving of this action programs would enable our society to harbor “justice and security for everyone” (Adams, 2000). Moreover, Smith & Carson (1998) suggested that there are seven components of peace education that are non-violence, human rights, social justice, world mindedness, meaningful participation, personal peace, and ecological balance. When the understanding on non-violence and conflict resolution based on peace technique experiences can be achieved, when civil and political rights are given to all regardless of their sex, race, and sexual orientation in the name of human rights implementation, when equalities for all are promoted not in the name of charity from understanding on justice and human relations, when we can literally be part of movement “Think globally, act locally”, when meaning participation of citizens in grassroots community in a bottom-up way can be achieved not from top-bottom way in a significant sense, and finally when inclusiveness of those marginalized in various dimensions can be promoted, we would be able to live in such a holistic society where no labeling of derogatory manner will be accepted and conducted and thus people regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, legal status, sexual orientation, and other status would be able to live in a harmony (Smith & Carson, 1998, UNESCO, 2013). Just like transformative approach trend in enhancement of social justice was the most preferred, they are also essential in peace education in that it requires long-term implementation to overcome on-going struggle (Ardizzone, 2002). I cannot still forget the first sex education I have received in the middle school. The teachers were demonstrating how adult male and female have a safe sex and the process of being pregnant and in labor. Whether it was because of my unconscious self knowing that I am gay or not, I asked a question how would adult male and adult male have a safe sex. Then, the teacher told me that sexual relation of same-sex is impossible and it would not be mentioned again. Had I known that it was okay to be gay and it is not something to be concealed, I wouldn’t have struggled so much with my identity for a while. Also, had there been a proper sex education regarding LGBT communities, we would have been living in a much more holistic society where wrong and difference can be distinguished and minorities can be understood and tolerated. Exercises practiced by peacebuilders such as “Peace Boat” in Japan to locate, transport to, and analyze the conflicts all over the world or transfer of IRA affiliated teenager to youth center for smooth integration to society rather than confinement would actually teach young people to be open to the idea of integration and unity (INSAF, 2014).
A long journey from past, present, and to future of LGBT community has come to an end anchoring the gender, human rights, sustainable development, and peace education. There is a saying ‘we learn from our mistakes’ and ‘it is okay to be wrong once as long as you learn from the experience’. What we need to do is to learn from our past experiences how we have been putting insufficient amount of effort to mitigate inequalities and carrying out discriminatory acts against LGBT community. When we start to establish and promote the rights of LGBT community based on the principles of sustainable development such as intragenerational & intergenerational equality, procedural equality, and others through peace education of inclusive nature, we would be able to form and maintain holistic society where no one would feel left out regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, and all the other status. Ever since I was old enough to understand the concept of discrimination and prejudice, my parents told me that everyone should refrain oneself from labeling others solely based on their traits. Sometimes, it is very difficult to think outside of box and behave in a way that is truly reflective of your value in a society fully embedded with biases. Call me idealistic or else but I think we will be able to build a culture of peace among ourselves through education when we start taking a little step forward.
Adams, D. (2000). From the International Year to a Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence. International Journal of Curriculum and Instruction, 2 (1), 1-10
Ardizzone, L. (2002). Towards global understanding: The transformative role of peace education. Current Issues in Comparative Education,4(2): 16-25.
Cudworth, E., & Hobden, S. (2011). Beyond environmental security: complex systems, multiple inequalities, and environmental risks. Environmental Politics, 20(1), pp. 42-59.
Dankelman, I (2002). Climate change: Learning from gender analysis and women’s experiences of organizing for sustainable development. Gender & Development, 10(2), pp. 21-29.
Donnelly, J. (2007) Relative universality of human rights. Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 29, N°2, pp. 281-306.
Goldstein, J. S. (2001) War and gender. How gender shapes the war system and vice versa. Chapter 1: Feminist theories of war and peace. Cambridge University Press, pp. 34-58.
Haughton, G. 1999 Environmental justice and the sustainable city. Journal of Planning Education and Research 18, pp. 233-243.
Hopwood, B., et al. 2005 “Sustainable Development: Mapping Different Approaches.” Desarrollo sostenible 13: pp. 38-52
INSAF (2014). Peacebuilders around the world. Tuebingen, Germany: Berghof Foundation/Peace Education, pp.4~41.
Krieger, D. (2014) Denmark’s civil unions: One giant leap for mankind, The Wilson Quarterly Fall 2014
PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF LGBT COMMUNITY 12
Mutua, M. (2002). Human rights as a metaphor. Human rights: A political and cultural critique. Philadelphia; Penn Press. Introduction and Chapter 1: pp. 1-38.
Pankhurst, D. (2008). The gender impact of peace. In M. Pugh, N. Cooper & M. Turner M (Eds.) Whose peace? Critical perspectives on the political economy of peacebuilding. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Chapter 2, pp. 32-48.
Peterson, V. S. (2010) Gendered identities, ideologies, and practices in the context of war and militarism, In L. Sjoberg & S. Via (Eds). Gender, war, and militarism, Santa Barbara: Praeger. Chapter 1, pp. 1-11.
Ramcharan B.G. (2004). Human rights and conflict resolution. Human Rights Law Review. Vol. 4. Issue 1. (Spring 2004). pp. 1-18.
Smith, D., & Carson, T. (1998). Educating for a peaceful future: Toronto: Kagan & Woo. Pp. 21-32.
Stohr, G. (2015, June 26) Gay Marriage Legalized by Top U.S. Court in Landmark Ruling, Retrieved from
UNESCO (2013). Global Citizenship Education: An emerging perspective. Paris: UNESCO’s Division of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, pp. 1-6. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002241/224115E.pdf
UN General Assembly (1948), Universal de los Derechos Humanos, Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
UN WECD (1987), Our Common Future, Retrieved from http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm